Bruce Davis, seen here in 2014, was convicted in 1969 for his role in two murders connected to the Manson Family. He’s been in prison for nearly 50 years. Last year, he was recommended for — and then denied — parole for the third time. Last week, a Los Angeles judge upheld the most recent decision.
Only one Manson Family member who participated in a murder has ever been paroled: Steve “Clem” Grogan, who was convicted in the death of “Shorty” Shea, who worked as a ranch hand at Family hangout Spahn Ranch. (He got out in 1985.) The most famous member to ever be paroled didn’t actually kill anyone, though she did try and assassinate President Gerald Ford: Squeaky Fromme, freed in 2009.
Davis wasn’t involved in the Family’s most infamous crimes, the so-called “Tate-LaBianca” killings that claimed the life of actress Sharon Tate and six others over two nights in August 1969. All Family members convicted in those crimes, including Manson, are still imprisoned, with the exception of Susan Atkins, who died of brain cancer in a prison hospital in 2009. Leslie Van Houten, who was a teenager in 1969, has had 20 unsuccessful parole hearings over the years.
Like Grogan, Davis participated in Shea’s murder, as well as the murder of Gary Hinman, a musician from whom the Family hoped to extort money.
Last March, a parole board recommended Davis’ release, but in August, California Gov. Jerry Brown reversed the decision. According to the LA Times:
“The exceptional brutality of these crimes and the terror the Manson family inflicted on the Los Angeles community 45 years ago still resonate,” Brown said in his decision. “These crimes represent that “rare circumstance” in which the aggravated nature of the crimes alone is sufficient to deny parole.”
The governor said Davis’ continuing attempts to portray himself as a “passive bystander” in the murders also made him unsuitable for parole.
Davis had bragged about murdering and dismembering one of the victims, then evaded capture for more than a year in the desert with other cult members, the governor noted.
“These are not the actions of a distraught and reluctant participant,” Brown said in his decision.
Brown also reversed a parole decision in Davis’ favor in 2012; then-Gov. Schwarzenegger did the same in 2010.
In upholding Brown’s 2014 decision, Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan specifically referenced the brutal nature of Davis’ crimes, ABC News reported:
The Manson family planned to rob Hinman, a friend, but killed him after holding him two days because he said he didn’t have money. Davis held Hinman at gunpoint while Manson sliced his face open with a sword.
About a month later, Davis stabbed Shea at Spahn Ranch where the family lived. Davis boasted he decapitated the ranch hand. Shea’s body was found buried on the property years later.
“Both victims were abused, defiled and mutilated,” Ryan wrote. “These actions demonstrate the utmost callous disregard for human suffering.”
Photo credit: Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP